Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Oscar Challenge

Some of you may have noticed the spate of movie reviews on my blog, lately, and the more astute of you may have noticed that most of these (nearly all) have been for movies that are nominated for Best Picture at this year's Academy Awards. See, several years ago, my wife and I decided to actually try to see the movies that were nominated before the awards were given out. [She's not all that into the big, blockbuster-type summer movies (with some exceptions (Avengers)), so this our movie thing that we do together.] It didn't go so well that year, because we waited until after the nominations were announced, and many of the movies were no longer at the theater and not yet available on DVD. Since then, we've been working on our technique.

Last year, we managed to see six of the nine nominated films before the awards ceremony (we've seen all but one, at this point). Although I was glad that Argo won (for Affleck's sake), I think Lincoln was the better film. At least, Day-Lewis won for best actor, though, because anything other than that would have just been wrong.

This year, we are up to six of the nine nominated films (as I write this, because I think we'll be at seven before this actually gets posted). Of course, my belief is that the count should be seven of 10, because Saving Mr. Banks certainly should have been nominated. Some of what I've read suggests that it didn't get nominated due to Meryl Streep and that she was actively campaigning to keep that nomination from happening. And I get that a big part of the Academy Awards is political, but that kind of stuff just bothers me. And, no, I don't know Meryl Streep, so I can't say that that's true, but I did read about her anti-Disney speech, and I do know that that film should have been nominated.

But maybe it wasn't nominated so that it wouldn't win. I mean, if it was nominated, it would be difficult to justify picking a different movie over it, like, say, 12 Years a Slave, but, if it's not nominated at all, then it can't win. Which is messed up logic, too, but the Academy people do like to go with "important" movies and, maybe, it's still too close to The Artist's win in 2011 for them to go with another Hollywood-ish film even if this one is deserving (as opposed to The Artist, which wasn't).


At the moment, from the nominated movies, I'm going with 12 Years a Slave as the eventual winner. I don't think it's the best film, but I do think it's the most likely to win. Of the ones I've seen, I think Dallas Buyers Club is the most deserving of the Best Picture Oscar, but I don't think it will win. I do hope that Matthew McConaughey gets Best Actor, though; he was tremendous in a similar fashion as Day-Lewis in Lincoln.

Did I say there should be 10 nominations this year? Actually, I don't really think that. I think there should only be nine, because The Wolf of Wall Street doesn't deserve its nomination. It's this year's Beasts of the Southern Wild, the movie that people can't bring themselves to say that they don't get. Sometimes, when a movie doesn't make sense, it really just doesn't make sense. Don't pretend you get it by talking about how deep it is and how other people just don't understand, especially if, then, you're not going to bother explaining because, you know, if you didn't get it on your own, you just can't get it. Do people still believe that line? I suppose they must.
Anyway, I've already been through that class, so it doesn't work on me. Heck, I've been on the other end of that, so it really doesn't work on me. [Seriously, one of my English profs in college would give A's to any paper that was just outside of his understanding. Or, you know, if it was too confusing but you could make him think he just wasn't "getting" it. Rather than look like he didn't get it, he'd just give the paper the A.]

Captain Phillips is this year's Life of Pi for me. It's the movie I just can't manage to make myself want to see. We knew when it was out in theater that we should go see it. We talked about it a lot. It always came down to, "Well, do you want to see it?" "No, do you?" "No..." And, so, we never went to see it, and there's probably no way, now, to see it before Oscar night without buying it, and I really don't want to do that. Although, if we manage to get in the other two beforehand, we might break down. It has been mentioned.

And, yeah, I did, eventually, see Life of Pi, and, yeah, it would have been a cool movie to see in the theater just for the visual aspect of it, but, beyond that, I wasn't overly impressed (you can click the link and read the review if you want).

I guess the real question from all of this is, when all is said and done, "Do I feel, really, like I've watched the year's best movies?" Yes, actually, on the whole, I do, especially this year. There are movies I enjoy more just for the thrill of watching them, but I don't have any illusions of that making them better movies than they are. As with food, enjoyment does not equal quality or goodness (for you). Look, I loved Thor: The Dark World, and I would (and will) watch it again, but Dallas Buyers Club is a better movie. I'll probably never watch Dallas Buyers Club again; it's not the kind of thing you want to watch again (most people, anyway); but I'm really glad I saw it the one time, because it was a powerful and moving movie.

So, mostly, yeah, I think they do a pretty decent job of picking out the "best" movies. The movies with something to say. Except 2011. I don't know what was going on that year. At any rate, that we watch these movies allows me to step a little outside of the movies I would normally watch. It's like (exactly like) reading a book outside of your favorite genre, and it's always good to experience new things. Some of them will suck (Wolf), but some of them will be extraordinary and you'll be really glad you stepped outside of your box even if you're just going to get right back inside (because I totally plan to see Robocop). The thing is, if you do it enough, you'll find that your box isn't quite cube-shaped anymore, and that's a good thing.

Oh, and just to throw it out there, my wife is totally going for American Hustle. I think it's the hair.


  1. I agree with your wife - American Hustle is my pick.
    I usually try to see as many best picture nominees before the awards as well, but have fallen behind this year.
    Shame Saving Mr. Banks wasn't nominated. And no, The Artist shouldn't have won that year. I thought Hugo was a far better film.
    Really didn't see a film that blew my doors off last year though. Some really great and really enjoyable films, but no Avengers level movie.

  2. I found Hustle a little bland, lots of acting not much story. Could have used a better twist too (it was about cons after all). Personally, I think Gravity might sneak in there.

    Moody Writing

  3. They should have an Oscar for Best Hair.

    Seriously, though, some of those MTV-ish movie awards where they break out the categories are a good idea, because comparing Gravity to 12 Years A Slave to American Hustle is hard to do. What makes a "Best Picture" a "Best Picture?" I always go back to the year Forrest Gump won and Pulp Fiction didn't, even though Pulp Fiction was revolutionary (at the time) in how it told the story and how antisocial it was, really, but Forrest Gump was a feel-good movie that parents could watch.

    To me, the Best Picture is a combination of how popular it was (I've always thought that counts for something) how innovative and challenging it was (did it do something new, different, etc), and how well-done it was (did it look good, was the acting memorable, etc.)

    It's not just STORY, though. Movies have to take stories to a different level. I think that's why I get so bored with movies, TV shows, and videos: They don't add anything to the story itself. When you've got visual and sound to work with, why not use them to their fullest effect? And yet they mostly don't. I listen to a lot of TV shows and movies as background noise while I work and I can tell you that there are very few that wouldn't work just as well as radio shows, which means that the visual aspect of the story is being ignored.

    I'm not saying everything has to be all weird camera angels a la 1960s Batman. But Peter Jackson made Lord of The Rings come alive in a way that not only looked like how I imagined it, it made it more real. That's where movies can excel.

    So one thing I look at is "Did this need to be a movie, and if so, did they USE the art of moviemaking to tell a better story?"

    That's why something like "The Artist" (which I've never seen) or "Lincoln" (ditto) might be a Best Picture: you get a chance to see Lincoln, alive, or get a silent movie that depends on so much more than words to tell a story.

    And that's why I like blockbuster summer movies so much: you can't really tell "The Avengers" on paper.

    We saw "Prisoners" last year, and they made a really effective use of the visual medium. I'm not saying it should be best picture, but the way the movie was filmed in sort of muted, wintery light that made it feel dated, and the way they shot the scenes where Wolverine interrogates the guy suspected of being the kidnapper, those scenes are brutal and great.

    SO I think people should use criteria like that for judging movies: Did it need to be a movie, and was it a movie that wouldn't have been as great in any other format?

    By those criteria, and since I've seen almost no movies this year, I'd go with Gravity.

  4. I cannot imagine why they didn't nominate Saving Mr. Banks, from what I have seen of it, it is brilliant. But then with Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson, how could it not be. I haven't seen any of the movies and probably won't for a year or two yet. Hubby won't go and I still haven't picked up courage enough to go on my own.

  5. I have been so "meh" with movies this last year. My focus kind of shifted to television at some point. So I have absolutely no opinion on any of this, however, you are not the first person I've seen that thinks 12 Years A Slave should win. Based on that, I need to just go and see it.

  6. The Oscars definitely do a better job of picking deserving movies than the Grammys do with artists and songs. Gag.

    Also, I'm glad to hear I'm not the only one who just can't bring themselves to see Captain Phillips. I just can't. I have absolutely zero desire to see this movie, no matter how much praise I hear about it.

  7. Since they didn't nominate any Hollywood or WWII or British royalty movies my money would be on 12 Years a Slave, even though it was pretty much a flop when it came out in November. It'd be nice if they had "Best Picture for Snooty Hipsters" and then "Best Picture People Actually Watched." Because really movies like "The Artist" or "The Hurt Locker" or "Crash" no one hardly watched until they got nominated and won.

    If you were going by money then it would be "Iron Man 3," "Despicable Me 2," "Man of Steel," "Frozen," etc. "12 Years a Slave" or "Dallas Buyer's Club" would probably show up at #200 or so. That doesn't mean they're bad; it just means people didn't really care, but now we'll all pretend these are the most important movies ever so we can seem smart and hip.

  8. Alex: I thought there were some good choices from last year. Argo and Lincoln were both excellent. Silver Linings and Les Mis were also good choices. Django and Pi, though, didn't make the list because they deserved to be there. It was Scorsese syndrome (yeah, I just made that up).

    mood: I just don't think Gravity will win. It was great and should certainly win for visuals and Bullock should maybe win for Actress, but I don't think, overall, the story is strong enough. But that's just my view.

    Briane: They have that. Sort of. I'm sure Best Hair falls under something.

    I agree with a lot of what you're saying, even most of what you're saying, BUT...
    I don't think popularity should have anything to do with "best." Utter crap (Jackson's Hobbit, Twilight, Man of Steel) can be immensely popular, and I'm not for nominating something just because it made a bunch of money.

    Jo: I don't like going to movies alone, either.

    Michael: I think it will win; I don't think it should win.

    ABftS: I'm not up on current music enough to have an opinion on the Grammys. I didn't watch them and have no idea what won.

    Pat: There are certainly a lot of movies that no one would watch if they weren't nominated. I would never have gone to see Dallas Buyers Club, but it was fabulous.

    There was an interesting thing on NPR recently about movies made with an Oscar goal rather than a money goal.

  9. I've heard some people say that they liked The Wolf of Wall Street. Fine. But I don't think it should be nominated, either. Of course, it's Scorsese, so it's going to be there.

    Isn't it weird how really, really good movies aren't the ones you want to watch over and over and over?

  10. I have about zero chance of seeing any Oscar nominated movies until they come out on DVD, which is AFTER the Oscars in almost every instance. I just don't go to the theater anymore (except this year I did go see The Hobbit on Christmas). Haven't seen any of those nominated. Will probably see about half of them later, though. Twelve Years a Slave and Gravity are the two I probably want to see the most. But now I'll add The Dallas Buyer's Club too. Heard the performances were excellent.

  11. Jeanne: Often, really good movies are just difficult to watch over and over. Once is enough.

    L.G.: Captain Phillips is out on DVD, so you could see that one ahead of time.

  12. I don't know...sometimes you watch a movie and you just know that you're watching the future Oscar Winner - I had that feeling during both Dances With Wolves and Braveheart...and other times you know you're watching an Oscar Winning performance, like Anne Hathaway's when she was singing that song in Les Mis. I figure everyone must feel like that.
    Joan Allen in The Contender - that last scene, I felt like she could have based on that last scene alone.
    I hate that politics takes this away from people.

    In re to really good movies being difficult to watch - I really liked silver linings playbook, but I can only watch it one time. it reminds me too much of what i went thru during my low period and when i was at 'the place' and going to meetings just like he was, it was pretty funny but sad, i just have no desire to see it again. :(

  13. I am very behind in movies this year... and many of the Oscar nominating movies I have not seen. But if Wolf of Wall Street OR American Hustle win, well I think something is wrong with the Academy. But, yeah, I haven't wanted to go see Capt Phillips either. I'm sure it's well made and topical, but that's not enough to get me to the theatre-- no interest.

    This is the first I heard about the Meryl Streep /anti-Disney connection so I'm going to google that after writing this. Sounds interesting. I heard a lot about that movie, so I was surprised to hear it wasn't nominated.

    Do you and your wife have a wager, in case one of you is correct? Good luck!

  14. It's very weird to be abroad, and not part of all the Oscar/Grammy excitement... though I admit I don't miss it much. I guess I'm not huge into award shows.

    In any case, yes, I noticed that a lot of your posts were leaning towards movies recently. :)

  15. Sadly, I haven't seen many of the films you mentioned. The movies I love to go see are never nominated - comedies.

    I'm surprised to hear you say that Wolf of Wallstreet is a complex movie. I didn't see it but I figured it was just a tale of a man on the climb to success. I was totally wrong on that one, huh?

  16. I haven't seen any of the movies mentioned and ff it's anything like the Grammy's, I'll fall asleep before it even comes on. Sad I know. I really wanted to see Ringo and Paul McCartney and fell asleep.

  17. Funny, I was just thinking, Man, Andrew hasn't posted in a while, what's up with that?

    Then I came over here and see that I missed this post. Which it too bad, because I have a lot to say on this topic.

    I'm kidding. I have almost no interest in. I guess I have some interest, but that's why I used the word 'almost' earlier. But very little.

    Because, like Briane said, I don't know how to compare movies that are radically different on topic, and intent, and then compare them.

    I mean, think of the funniest movie you've ever seen. Maybe it's the funniest movie of all time, then compare it to, say Citizen Kane, or Schlinder's List or Tim Burton's Batman.... then pick the best movie.

    To me it's not a fair thing to do. I can tell you the three hardest times I've ever laughed at a movie, in my life:

    Monty Python and the Holy Grail
    Dumb and Dumber
    Mrs. Doubtfire

    I'm not especially proud of either of those, but man, seeing them, and then exploding with laughter that was in at least one case, causing enough alarm that some people seriously thought they were going to have to seek medical attention for me. I mean, I laughed really hard. I was sore for days. I fell, honestly, FELL out of my seat and into the floor of the theater in once case. I couldn't get back to my seat for something like 5 minutes. People were helping me the best they could, but I'd gone loopy and couldn't do anything.

    And no drugs were involved.

    The point of all that is that for me, at least, those movies worked as intended. I can't recall a horror movie ever having me equally as scared, so does that mean that no horror movie is as good as either of those comedies?

    Whatever, I'm really just trying to make the point that I don't like awards for movies very much. It's too hard to gauge, I think you can probably tell the worst movies (Assuming they all have similar technical merit, you know, like sound and score and all that) easier than you can the best.

    I don't know, I'm rambly. I'm not sure if I had a point now. Whatever it was, assuming I had one, I hope I made it.

  18. RG: Politics in anything other than politics is generally a bad thing, and I'm not even sure politics ought to be in politics.

    Jean: Almost everything is a wager. There is even a wager about the number of trailers before a movie. yeah, That's the way it is in our house while telling our kids, "Not everything is a competition."

    Alex: Well, I'm not actually into the award shows themselves. I am interested in movies, though.
    I tend to ignore the Grammys as I'm too unfamailiar with most of the music.

    Elsie: I don't think Wolf is complex; that's not what I meant. It's pointless, so people come out of it with a feeling they need to say it was good rather than admit to not getting the point that wasn't actually there. Unless that is the point but, then, what's the point?

    G_G: You know, I have never watched the Academy awards. Or any other awards show like that.

    Rusty: Well, I can tell you what's not the best movie: Burton's Batman. Because that movie sucked.

    I know what you mean about laughing. I laughed so hard at the opening cartoon to Roger Rabbit that I developed a permanent laughing disorder. True story.

  19. Not a fan of Burton's Batman either, by the way. Was just trying to think of something somewhat loved, but campy.

  20. Rusty: If I put Burton in a sentence with "good movie," I'm usually talking about Edward Scissorhands. That's almost the only movie he ever made.